It is already time for Grand Slam tennis. The Australian Open will begin on Jan. 13, and I swear the start date to this event gets sooner on the calendar every year. There is no other explanation for the fact I'm surprised it's Grand Slam time.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. This event is a great way to get that tennis fix to make it through the winter.
Rafael Nadal enters the tournament as the world No. 1 after his amazing 2013 season, but he is not No. 1 in my power rankings. That honor belongs to the event's defending champion.
The draw is set. Feel free to view it in the link below, but when it comes to the men featured in this article, the draw is not all that important. Legend Boris Becker explains:
No. 1: Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic has a far easier path to the final than Rafael Nadal, but in the end, he will still likely have to beat the Spaniard to take the title. So what else is new?
These two rivals are the only two men in the history of the sport to have met in the final of every major. In 2012, Djokovic won the Australian Open title only after playing a nearly six-hour championship match against Nadal that became an instant classic.
Although Nadal got the better of Djokovic when it mattered most last season, Djokovic actually has won the last two meetings between the two. In fact, both of those victories came in straight sets for Djokovic.
Not only that, the world No. 2 has not lost since Nadal beat him in the final of the U.S. Open—a span that covers 24 matches.
Djokovic is in prime form to defend his title.
No. 2: Rafael Nadal
While Becker and I just got done dismissing the draw, Nadal's is especially noteworthy. Not only does he face a relatively difficult path, but the No. 1 seed is pitted against Australian Bernard Tomic in the first round.
Who wins the title?
The 21-year-old Tomic has reached the second round of every Australian Open since he was 16, but that streak will likely come crashing to an end.
Nadal is coming off a year where he put on one of the greatest displays of tennis the sport has ever seen. Now he will try to get this season off to a soaring start.
Nadal won this event in 2009 and missed last year's with knee issues. The Australian Open has actually been his least successful major, with just the one title.
With the improvements he displayed on hard court last year, however, which saw him win his second U.S. Open, Nadal's "struggles" at this tournament should be a thing of the past.
Nadal was in good form to open the season when he took the title in Doha, and I'm sure the 27-year-old is gunning to add another major to his resume.
Although he was not content with his consistency, Nadal knows he flashed the form in Doha needed to take this title. This quote from Nadal comes after he won the title with a 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Gael Monfils and comes to us from Darren Walton of the Sunday Morning Herald: "If I am playing the way that I played in the first set, I think I will be very competitive [in Australia]."
No. 3: Andy Murray
With a strong recent track record at the Australian Open, Andy Murray must be among the top three men's contenders. With a back less than a month into a comeback bid from surgery, however, Murray can't be placed higher than third.
The 26-year-old Scot has reached three of the last four finals at this event. Like he did in the below video from last year's final, Djokovic has ended Murray's last three Australian Opens.
Even Murray admitted, however, that the recent return from surgery makes his title hopes a bit of a long shot:
In his lone event of the year, Murray won the opener 6-0, 6-0 against Mousa Shanan Zayed. With a step up in competition in the second round against Florian Mayer, it was evident that Murray did not yet have his tournament legs back. He got diminished results as the match wore on and lost 6-3, 4-6, 2-6.
With extra conditioning heading into this tournament, if Murray can survive the early rounds he could find himself with fresh legs down the stretch. That will make him a problem for any opponent.